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The Inside Track | T. J. SIMERS

Phil Runs His Republic, Tweaking It Along the Way

November 20, 2001|T.J. Simers

I know a little something about irritating people, so I've always felt a kinship with Phil Jackson, the Big Tweaker, which is why I stopped by Laker practice Monday to chat about his chippy relationship with Shaquille O'Neal, and see what I could learn from the teasing master.

The first thing I saw, however, was Phil and Shaq off to the side, Phil bending his knees and Shaq doing the very same thing as if he was being coached to do something, and I'm not sure what shocked me the most.

Phil and Shaq on speaking terms, or Phil doing some coaching?

Phil was even grinning from ear-to-ear like Shaq had just asked him to be godfather to his newest child--Shaq fearful, I presume, that if he had asked Kobe Bryant and handed him his daughter, Kobe might not pass the child back.

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NOW I had expected to find Phil and Shaq on opposite ends of the court when I arrived after reading Shaq's remarks in the newspaper--Shaq telling our Tim Brown, "I am mad about everything....You'll see. It'll all come out."

From what I can tell, none of it has come out yet, which heaven help us could mean another book from Phil guessing what might have bothered Shaq. If it includes pictures of Jeanie--it might sell.

However, as mad as Shaq said he was, I found it odd to see him standing here Monday looking like someone who wanted a pat on the head from the coach. What a switch. After Sunday night's win over Sacramento, Shaq stiffed the media, leaving everyone to think he was still pouting and at war with his coach.

The big guy had suggested in print it might be a good idea if his coach just shut up. I can't tell you how many times I've thought of saying the same thing to Dwyre--my own boss--but I would never be so brassy as to say it out loud.

Maybe that's why I shouldn't have been surprised seeing Phil and Shaq yucking it up--Shaq obviously kissing up to his boss like the rest of us. I've gone so far as to play golf with Dwyre, and I'm sure many of you have made similar life-threatening sacrifices to feed your family.

When the Phil and Shaq lovefest broke up, the media asked Shaq what happened, but he said he'd be back after he made a stop in the locker room.

*

WHILE WAITING for Shaq, I visited with someone who had heard the cooing exchange between Shaq and Phil. A columnist for the Arizona Republic had apparently made fun of Shaq for stepping across the free-throw line, writing it was a violation of the rules, and had quoted Dallas owner Mark Cuban.

Cuban told the Arizona writer, "[The NBA] sent out a letter to all officials saying to pay attention to it. Of course, I watched [Shaq] the other night, and he still shoots free throws like a 10-year-old. He's got to step over the line to get it there."

This was great news for Jackson, because now Shaq could be mad at Cuban, the NBA and the writer from Arizona instead of his own coach. This explained why Jackson was grinning ear-to-ear.

*

I WANTED to congratulate Shaq on redirecting his anger, but I got tired of waiting. By accident I caught him sneaking out the back door. Of course, when you are seven feet tall and can block out the sun, you don't really get to sneak anywhere.

"I'm happy," he said, taking a step back in the parking lot onto a curb--making himself eight feet tall, and now I know what it feels like to be Earl Boykins.

I pointed out to him--well, I pointed up to him--that he had said he was mad at everything, and what had happened overnight?

"It's the silly media people who keep it up," Shaq said, and I couldn't really disagree with him because CBS' Jim Hill, Fox's Suzy Shuster and KCAL's Darren Horton were all there, which pretty much accounts for all the silly media people in town. "I don't feel like talking about it every day. If I'm mad, I'm mad."

I wanted to ask if he was mad, but he kept looking at Hill, Shuster and Horton, and talking to them:

"It's some of you silly media people that stir it up." Obviously he was ignoring me.

Then he said something about everyone being older than he is--making direct eye contact with me for some reason--and said all the old people should grow up, and be mature like him. I'll have to start sneaking out back doors.

*

I WENT back to Phil to express my admiration for teasing the big guy, and getting away with it. I said I'd like to be as good as he is one day, and he told me that's the part of coaching he finds the most distasteful--critiquing and fining his players. I figured he was just teasing me.

But he seemed genuinely sincere, which any good tweaker must be, and suggested it's something he learned in Plato's Republic. "The best form of government," he said, "is a benevolent dictatorship, which is what I like."

I know Rodman, of course, and many other great philosophers of our time, but I must've missed that issue of Plato's Republic, and he kind of lost me there, although Hill, Shuster and Horton seemed to know what he was talking about.

I just wanted to know if Phil and Shaq had kissed and made up, and he said, "There never was anything between us." I figured he misinterpreted my question, but at the risk of getting any more Plato, I just left him with the silly media people.

*

THIRTY OF 32 voters mentioned Dodger Shawn Green's name on their National League MVP ballots, while three took note of Paul LoDuca's outstanding season.

Twenty-eight players received at least one vote, making Gary Sheffield the 29th-best player in the league--at best.

TODAY'S LAST word comes in an e-mail from Kurt Kamel, UCLA class of 2002:

"Were your comments regarding the UCLA-USC game in Sunday's paper some kind of sarcastic joke?"

You young kids today are so smart--I can't slip a thing past you.

*

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com

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